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May 30, 2020

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New food pantry program

Weekend nutrition for Ada students

By Barb Lockard
Across the United States, there are 22 million children receiving free or reduced-cost meals through the National School Lunch and National School Breakfast programs. 

These meals may be the only ones that some students enjoy, and the nutrition can make a difference in concentration, alertness and physical well-being. 

But what happens on the weekends, when kids leave school for a home that may not have enough food to sustain them for two days?

Beth Gray, chair of the board of the Ada Food Pantry, said that the organization became interested in looking into a weekend food program at the suggestion of board member Deb Hays.

Hays suggested a “weekend backpack” program for Ada Elementary students on free or reduced-cost lunch.

“Food Pantry usage has declined in the past three years, but our donations have remained strong,” Gray added.  “We wanted to use our surplus to serve another need in the Ada population.” 

The board studied similar programs in other communities and visited a program in Green, Ohio, that feeds hundreds of students each week.  They met with Ada school administration in May 2019 and received permission to proceed.

According to Gray, the biggest concern among Food Pantry board members and Ada Schools’ personnel was maintaining the confidentiality of the backpack recipients.  They did not want students to be embarrassed or stigmatized.

“The Food Pantry board and volunteers prepare the food packages for the weekend and, while the students are out of the classroom, the teachers place the packages in the children’s backpacks,” said Gray. 

The board does not know who receives the food and only gets a count from the school. Children in grades K-5 on the free or reduced-cost lunch program are eligible. 

Not affiliated with any national program, the Ada Food Pantry is able to operate the weekend backpack program on local donations.

“We knew we could do this on our own,” added Gray.

The goal in preparing the weekend packages is to pack for two days of meals.  Items may include breakfast bars, oatmeal, vegetables, fruit cups and cereal.  A nutritionist consults on the food selection and an effort is made to avoid foods with too much salt or sugar. 

The first weekend food distribution took place on Friday, September 13.  Ada Elementary received 22 packages which were sent home with students in the newly inaugurated Bulldog Blessings Backpack Program.

“As the program progresses, we’re learning our way,” added Gray. 

Members of the Ada Food Pantry Board of Directors are:
Diane Atkinson
Trent Boedicker
Chris Bowers
Jack Duffy
Tom Gossell
Beth Gray
Deb Hays
Jim Pifer
Angie Richardson
Jessica Spiese